Robin Pilcher, EMEA director of marketing for McData, gave his views on the Brocade-McData acquisition. He thought there were three interested constituencies: customers, OEMS, and value-added resellers and distributors.

For customers: "It's got to be ultimately good news. Where there was a three-way decision now there is a Brocade/McData or Cisco decision." It is a simpler choice.

Part of the reason why this is a good thing stems from the SAN industry's inability to produce effective interoperability standards.

The SNIA's efforts have been inadequate. Pilcher said: "In reality customers don't mix different vendors' hardware in their SANs. This acquisition makes it simpler."

There is still the Brocade-vs-Cisco decision to add competitive pressure. But an ancillary point to this is that interoperating Brocade+McData and Cisco environments will still be difficult and, in effect, impractical.

Another reason why customers should feel positive about the acquisition is that: "McData will bring technology to improve Brocade's product range: FICON, SAN extension and professional services. These will be added to Brocade SANs. At last now all of this will be under one umbrella."

In the future there will be a unified product range: "In the longer term the products inevitably will come together."

Here Pilcher adds a new perspective: "The industry as a whole must be at an inflection point. We have all moved from one to two to four gigs with 8Gbit/s Fibre Channel on the horizon. The McData i10K (director) successor is just around the corner. Brocade is looking at the 48000 next step.

"The fact that we come together probably means that the new director will come with both strands."

He is imagining that the next director, the Brocade 64000 say, will be the integration point for both product lines. It is a great opportunity for the acquisition to be of benefit to customers.

Customers shouldn't be worried about installed products having a fast end-of-life applied to them: "McData products will typically be maintained for five years. The maintenance of installed McData kits should not be an issue."

For OEMs such as IBM, HDS and EMC it means simpler switch and director product line maintenance: "There will only be two product lines to qualify, train up on and maintain instead of three. There will only be two lines in the price book instead of three."

From the point of view of the distribution and retail channel: "There is a similar advantage. Most VARS and VADs carry Brocade. Many carry McData. Some carry Cisco. It will be simpler to maintain two lines rather than three."

Overall, Picher said: "I think it makes sense for all these constituencies. It's probably good news for most people."

Concerning Cisco
The Brocade/McData acquisition has taken place because there is a gorilla stomping around in the SAN jungle - Cisco.

Brocade is the largest fabric switch/director vendor. With the addition of McData it is now bigger. But it is still dwarfed overall by Cisco. The networking giant entered the networked storage market because it thought it could generate $5 billion annual revenues from storage.

Cisco CEO John Chambers, commenting on Cisco's record Q4 and year-end fiscal Year 2006 performance, said: "Advanced technologies' revenue grew year-over-year by 23 percent. Of the advanced technologies, storage area networking, unified communications, formerly known as enterprise IP communications, and wireless led the way. We believe we are gaining market share versus almost all of our competitors, but we also believe we are getting a larger share of our customers' total spend on communications and IT."

Storage revenue for Cisco grew 65 percent in its fourth quarter compared to the year-ago quarter.

The company is making progress and the rise of IP storage networking indicates that Fibre Channel will possibly become a networking niche, a big and substantial one, but a niche nevertheless.

That niche will be bigger if FC SANs can break out of the enterprise data centre and become practical small and medium enterprise (SME) storage technologies. For that to happen FC SAN technology has to perform better, cost the same or less, and be easier or as easy to manage as IP SANs.

The combination of Brocade and McData might make this happen or it might not. The new company might decide that a NAS/IP SAN combination is what SMEs want and that FC SANs are solely for enterprises.

In that market space Brocade will now speak with more clout to its OEM partners for whom working with Cisco is a mixed blessing. It will also represent a stronger and more attractive SAN supplier, especially, if it can keep its McData customers happy and loyal and resistent to Cisco sales rep blandishments.

Pilcher's sentiments could go a long way to reassuring McData customers that, at the get-go, Brocade and McData's intentions are in the right place.